The God of Eternity.

1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 ESV

There seems to be little doubt that Solomon believed in the sovereignty of God. He sincerely believed that the lives of all men were in the hands of God, whether they were righteous or wicked, good or bad. His view was that God acted as the divine arbiter over the fate of all, including their lives and inevitable deaths, leaving man no option but to make the most out of the days he had allotted to him by God. But this view of God’s sovereignty has a feel of resignation and resentment to it. He clearly states that “the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God”, but he doesn’t come across as all that pleased about it. In fact, he views this sovereignty as some kind of divine whim, where God metes out love and hate as He sees fit. Solomon almost paints it as some kind of arbitrary decision on God’s part, lacking any kind of reasoned explanation. He puts it this way:  “Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him” (Ecclesiastes 9:1 ESV). In other words, from man’s earth-bound perspective, he can never know if God is going to show him favor or disfavor. If good things happen, it is the will of God. If bad things happen, it is the will of God. That appears to be his somewhat pessimistic conclusion regarding God’s sovereignty.

As far as Solomon can tell, all people share the same fate. They all die. And even while they remain alive, they all experience their fair share of ups and downs, blessings and curses, successes and failures. And he points out that it really doesn’t seem to matter how you live your life. He compares the righteous with the wicked, the good with those who commit evil, the ceremonially clean with the ceremonially impure, and finally, the one who offers sacrifices to God with the one who does not. The individuals represented by these polarized comparisons all face death at the end of their lives, and the sole factor determining the day of their death is God. And Solomon expresses his opinion about the matter, concluding, “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Solomon saw death as some kind of divine exclamation point at the end of man’s life sentence, ending any hope of experiencing joy and fulfillment. And it was that belief that led him to write: “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 ESV). From his perspective, it was better to remain alive, even if you had to struggle with the apparent injustices of life. Solomon clearly saw life as preferable to death.

Solomon has made it clear that this life can be difficult and meaningless. Here, he states, “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Men do evil things. They commit acts of violence against one another. They oppress and abuse one another. And yet, Solomon would prefer to put up with all that than face the final day of death. Because, as far as he can see, that day has a finality to it. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 ESV). Do you see how he views death? He sees it as an end, almost as a form of divine penalty doled out by God on all who have ever lived. It’s as if he’s saying that life is this hit or miss, futility filled existence, completely dictated by God, and then it suddenly comes to a screeching, abrupt end – all based on God’s divine determination. It’s no wonder he preferred life over death. For him, whatever existed beyond the grave was unattractive and undesirable. As far as he could tell, the destiny that awaits us on the other side of death was unknowable and, therefore, unwelcome. Concerning those who die: “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6 ESV).

Those are the words of a man who sees this life as the only source of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. In fact, Solomon seemed to believe that the only way God could bless human beings was through the physical pleasures associated with life on this planet. He saw man’s identity completely tied to his earthly existence. All rewards were relegated to this life and this plane of existence. There was nothing beyond the grave. And it is that world view that dictates the decision-making of just about every person who occupies this planet – unless they have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are other religions that teach an afterlife where there are rewards. But Christianity is particularly future-oriented, placing the real emphasis of mankind’s existence not on this world, but on the one to come. Our reward awaits us in eternity, not on this earth. That does not mean God withholds blessings from His children while they remain alive, but that His greatest reward is yet to come. The words of Jesus, spoken in His sermon on the mount, confirm this.

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The apostle Paul had a future-oriented mindset. He had his eyes set on his future reward, his glorification that was tied to the return of Christ.

13 …but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

The author of Hebrews also provides us with powerful words of encouragement, using Jesus as an example of the way in which we should live while we exist on this earth.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Jesus suffered. He knew what it was like to endure rejection and ridicule, injustice and oppression. He even endured the pain of the cross, knowing that it was all part of God’s divine will for His life. It was a necessary part of the redemptive plan God had put in place before the foundation of the world. Jesus ran His life’s race with endurance, keeping His eyes focused on the will of God and the future reward of God. And now He sits in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

And the apostle Paul would have us remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we face a similar reward.

1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Regardless of what Solomon believed, there is something beyond the grave. Not only does an afterlife exist, it holds blessings beyond anything we can imagine. The pain, suffering, oppression, and injustice in this life that Solomon has so eloquently described, will not exist in the next one. For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, eternity awaits and a life free from pain, suffering, sin, sorrow, and the looming threat of death. John writes of this wonderful reality in his letter to the seven churches.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:3-4 NLT

Solomon was a wise man, but he reveals his inability to comprehend the ways of God. Over the years, he had developed an earth-based, temporal perspective that limited the sovereignty of God to the here and now. He saw life as an end all, which explains his obsession with experiencing all that life had to offer. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for in this life, he deemed it all meaningless, like chasing the wind. But he failed to see that God had much more in store. The best was yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Why?

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV

Jeremiah was a confused and conflicted man. One minute he is weeping for his people, longing for God to spare them the coming destruction he knows they so fully deserve. But here, we find Jeremiah praying that God would give the wicked exactly what they deserve – dragging them off like sheep to the slaughter. Jeremiah, though a prophet, was still human. He had feelings just like anyone else and he felt confident and safe in expressing those feelings to God. He was angry at the people of Anathoth for plotting his death. He was frustrated with the stubborn and persistent refusal of the people of Judah to listen to his words of warning and call to repentance. And though he knew that God was righteous and just in all his actions, Jeremiah still had questions for Him.

“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1 NLT

Why? It’s a common question aimed at God by His people. We can’t help but ask why, because we don’t understand the ways of God. From our perspective, things seem illogical and even unjust at times. He doesn’t appear to be acting fairly or with integrity. We look at our life circumstances and see injustice, but then wonder how that can be if God is just. Jeremiah looked around him and saw wicked people who were happy and prosperous. With all that he knew about God, that seemed difficult to understand or explain. So, he asked God to provide him with answers. And Jeremiah would not be the first or the last human being to have questions for God. Job, in the midst of all his sufferings, expressed similar words to God.

“Why do the wicked prosper,
    growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
    and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
    and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT

He went on to say:

“They spend their days in prosperity,
    then go down to the grave in peace.
And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
    We want no part of you and your ways.
Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
    What good will it do us to pray?’” – Job 21:13-15 NLT

It was Asaph who wrote in his psalm:

“For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.” – Psalm 73:3-5 NLT

The prophet Habakkuk expressed his confusion and complaint to God regarding His seeming indifference to the Babylonians and their treatment of the people of Israel.

“But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

Things don’t always turn out like we think they should. Our expectations of God are sometime dashed on the rocks of reality. We expect deliverance and find ourselves suffering pain. We anticipate victory, but end up experiencing defeat. We attempt to follow God faithfully and then find ourselves inexplicably going through difficulties and trials. And like Jeremiah, we end up asking God, “Why?” We demand answers. From our human perspective, we see those who give God little but lip service seemingly prospering and skating through life unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem fair.

Jeremiah is incredulous. He can’t believe what he is seeing. He even tells God, “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts” (Jeremiah 12:3 NLT). Jeremiah was no hypocrite and he was confident that God knew so. And yet, he was the one who was suffering, while his opponents were prospering. Nothing about that scenario seemed just, right or fair. How could God let that happen? Why would God let that happen?

Jeremiah suffered from a malady common among God’s people. It was a false assumption that community with God equaled immunity from suffering. As the children of God we too often assume that our lives will be trouble-free and painless. But the Bible paints such a different picture. We have the stories of Joseph, who was used by God to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel from starvation and provide them with food and shelter in the land of Egypt. But in order for that to happen, Joseph had to endure countless trials and repeated acts of injustice against him. It was all part of God”s plan for his life. Generations later, Moses was God’s chosen instrument to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt. But first he had to run for his life, guilty of murder and a wanted criminal. Then he had to spend 40 years living as a common shepherd in the wilderness until God issued His call for Moses to be His deliverer. David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but spent years running for his life in an attempt to escape the wrath of Saul, the current king who had placed a bounty on David’s head. Time after time and all throughout the Scriptures, we see the people of God suffering as part of God’s divine plan. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel, accused of crimes He had not committed and executed like a common criminal. The apostles suffered constantly as they took the gospel to the nations. Paul described his life as a faithful messenger of the gospel in less-than-glamorous terms:

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). And it was Peter who wrote: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Jesus Himself told His disciples: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The life of the believer is not for the feint of heart. Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25 NLT). Following Christ requires daily death to self. It demands a giving up of our rights and expectations in order to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life. But He did promise abundant life – a life filled with the peace that passes all understanding. A life marked by the promise of God’s persistent presence. A life characterized by joy in the midst of sorrow, hope even in times of sorrow, strength when we are weak, comfort when we are suffering, and the promise of an eternity free from sin, sorrow, pain and death. It was Paul who reminded the believers in Rome: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

We are more than free to ask God, “Why?” But we already know the answer. He knows what is best. He has a plan. He can be trusted. And while His ways are not our ways and His methods may seem nothing short of madness, we must trust that He knows what He is doing and has a perfectly good reason for our suffering.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Friend and A Foe.

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands.”

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on. – 1 Samuel 18:1-9 ESV

David’s victory over Goliath was going to bring him great fame and a full-time position on Saul’s staff. No more dividing his time between the sheepfold and the palace. Saul gave him a permanent place on the royal payroll. Not only that, David was able to strike up a deep and lasting friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. But David’s close proximity to the king was going to result in a growing tension. His popularity among the people was unprecedented. He was a rock star, with a growing fan base and people were not only singing his praises, they were actually making up songs about him. All of this far from pleasing to Saul. He knew what the prophet Samuel had said:

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you. – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

Those words rang in his ears and he couldn’t help but be paranoid and a bit defensive regarding David’s growing popularity. He began to question David’s loyalty and wonder whether this ambitious young man would be satisfied with fame. Would he set his sights on the throne next? Saul was concerned that David would use his friendship with Jonathan and his access to the palace as the means for staging a coup. He intended to keep David close so that he could keep an eye on him.

This part of David’s life is fascinating. So far, he has done everything right. He had proven to be a faithful son, caring for his families flocks, even returning to care for them after having received the anointing of the prophet, Samuel. He had obediently followed his father’s commands, taking food to his brothers on the front line. Then, when he had seen the Philistine champion and heard his taunts, he had been shocked that no one was stepping forward to deal with this pagan who was defying the God of Israel. So he stepped up and offered his services to the king, placing his hope in God, and defeating Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone. But despite all this, David found himself under the suspicious and watchful eye of the king. He had made a new friend in Jonathan, but was quickly developing a formidable enemy in Saul. And it is not yet clear whether David even knew that his anointing by Samuel had been for the kingship of Israel. He most likely saw himself as just another servant of Saul, trying to do the right thing and serve the king in whatever way he could. Up to this point, David had been Saul’s armor bearer and harp player. He had done the king a huge favor by eliminating the threat of Goliath. And it seems that whatever David did, he did well. In fact, the text tells us:

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. – 1 Samuel 18:5 NLT

David was faithful. He had the Spirit of God dwelling upon him. But all his success would prove his downfall. In God’s providential plan, He had David right where He wanted him. None of this was a surprise to God. And Saul’s hatred of David was not only expected, it was planned. All of this was part of God’s divine strategy for preparing David to be king. David had received the anointing to be king, but now he was going to get the practical training required for him to be the kind of king God intended for him to be. Whether David realized it or not, he was being placed in God’s boot camp for kingship. David was going to have a ringside seat to watch lousy leadership on display. But there were other valuable lessons that David was going to need to learn in order for him to rule righteously. His world was about to be rocked. Those days in the pasture tending sheep were going to look increasingly more appealing. But God had much to teach David. He was a man after God’s own heart. In other words, he had a passion for the same things God did. But now God was going to begin the process of giving David a godly heart. His passions for the things of God were going to deepen. His love for the ways of God would become richer and fuller. His trust in the strength of God would grow. His reliance upon the care and provision of God would increase exponentially. And it would all begin with the growing hatred and animosity of King Saul. Things were about to heat up, because God’s lessons for David were about to start up.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Living With the End In Mind.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 ESV

There is a method to God’s seeming madness. Let’s be honest. Living the Christian life can sometimes be a maddening and quite frustrating experience. We have been promised abundant life, but at times it can feel as if that promise applies to everyone but us. We face difficulties. We experience trials of all kinds. We go through hard times. And we find ourselves wondering what has gone wrong or where God has gone. And yet, Paul tells us that “all things work together for good.” But where is the good in the loss of your job, your health or, worse yet, your child? How are we to find any good in what appears to be the obviously bad experiences of life? Paul would tell us that the answer has to do with our perspective. If we live our lives as if this world is all there is, then we will see the troubles and trials of life as setbacks to our joy. We will end up expecting all the blessings of God in this life and question His love and goodness when anything that doesn’t measure up to those expectations comes our way. But Paul had a different perspective. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). You see, he had his sights set on something other than this world. He had his hope placed in something far greater and far more reliable than anything this world has to offer. He said, “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ESV). Then he reminds us, “For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24 ESV). In other words, it is our future glorification for which we must hope and wait. God is not done yet. He has a purpose in mind for us. He has a plan that He is working. Which is exactly why Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). God’s purpose for us is multifaceted. It has stages. But it also has a culmination or completion point. At this point, we are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV). Paul told the Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NET). God’s plan called for our ongoing transformation or sanctification. But that is only part of the plan. Paul gives us the outline in its glorious entirety. God called us. He justified us. And one day He is going to glorify us. But interestingly enough, Paul uses the past tense when referring to our future glorification. He speaks of it as if it has already happened, because it is as good as done. We can trust God to accomplish what He has promised. He is as good as His word. But if we don’t keep our hope focused on the final phase of God’s plan, our future glorification, we will find ourselves struggling to make sense of all that goes on in this life. We will measure the trials and troubles of this life from our limited, earthly, time-bound perspective. 

In this life, God’s goal is to make us increasingly more like His Son. He is transforming us from our earthly sin nature into the likeness of His Son. And He uses anything and everything to accomplish that goal – the good, the bad, the painful, the pleasant. God called us, justified us, is currently sanctifying us and will one day glorify us. And while we will experience difficulties in this life, they in no way change or alter the fact that our future glorification is guaranteed. God’s love for us will culminate in His glorification of us. That is why Paul asks just a little bit later on in this same chapter: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ” (Romans 8:35 NLT).  And then he answers his own questions: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). God’s love for us cannot be stopped and it will not be complete until His plan for us has been fully fulfilled. His love for us is best illustrated in His Son’s death for us. He loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place. But Christ’s death was intended to provide for not only our justification, our being made right with God, but also our future glorification. It is for that hope we wait. And it is when we keep our hope placed firmly in that reality that we find the strength to endure the difficulties of this life. We can trust that God has a purpose behind our pain. He has a reason for allowing us to suffer in this life because He is preparing us for the next one. He is slowly weaning us off our dependence upon this world and getting us ready for the life He has prepared for us.

2 Corinthians 6

Living Proof.

2 Corinthians 6

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. – 2 Corinthians 6:4 NLT

Salvation is to be a holistic experience. It should impact every area of an individual’s life. And while primarily spiritual in nature, it manifests itself in the physical realm by transforming our behavior and equipping us to live radically different lives regardless of the circumstances we may encounter. It is in the physical world that our spiritual transformation becomes visible and practical. Paul could confidently claim that his salvation and his commission as a minister of God influenced every area of his life. It was because of his relationship with Jesus Christ that he could patiently endure troubles, hardships and calamities of every kind. He had endured beatings, angry mobs, imprisonment, exhaustion from hard work, sleepless nights, and gone without food for long periods of time; and yet, he continued to live a life marked by purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and love. In other words, his life revealed the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, regardless of what was happening to him or around him. It is how we handle our circumstances that gives evidence of our salvation. Our behavior, actions, and attitudes are the best proof of our inner transformation, Paul was able to say with a straight face, “We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us” (2 Corinthians 6:8 NLT). Paul’s faithfulness to God was not contingent on everything going his way or life turning out the way he expected it to. Paul had endured a great deal of pain and suffering since he had come to know Christ. His path had been anything but easy. His faithfulness to God’s call had not resulted in fame and fortune, but had brought him rejection, ridicule, heartache, physical pain, and poverty. And yet, he had joy, spiritual riches, and a sense of contentment with his lot in life.

God is in the life-changing business. He didn’t just send His Son to save us, but to redeem and renew us. God is not changing the world in which we live, but He is transforming lives of His children who live in the world. He is making us His ambassadors and representatives. He is making us salt and light. He is making us living proof of His Spirit’s presence and the resurrection power of the cross. There is a day coming when God will restore and renew His entire creation. But for right now, it is only the lives of men and women that He is reconciling. We are the beneficiaries of His love, grace, and mercy. We alone can know what it means to be made right with God and restored to a right relationship with Him. He is changing us so that we might be His change agents in this world. Paul was able to say, “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:3 NLT). He was confident in his assertion that his life was not a disconnect from or a discredit to his claim to have been changed by Christ. His actions under fire gave proof of his salvation. His ability to endure trials, troubles and hardships was evidence of the Spirit’s presence in his life.

There was a certain separation between the way Paul lived and the way the world around him lived. He lived his life differently and distinctively from the rest of the world. He had been set apart by God and lived accordingly. And yet, the Corinthians tended to want to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted salvation, but they preferred to keep their ties to the world and the pleasures this world offers. So Paul called them out. He challenged them to recognize their distinctiveness as Christ-followers and to live accordingly. He called them to live lives that gave evidence of their distinctiveness. Yes, it would be difficult. It would be risky. It would probably result in pain, rejection, and a certain degree of suffering. But God would be there in the midst of it all. Their lives would become proof of God’s transforming and sustaining power. They would become lights in the midst of the darkness. For Paul, compromise was never an option. Complacency was never a consideration. He was sold out and totally committed to the cause of Christ and it could be seen in every area of his life. His salvation had been total and complete. He was a new man – inside and out. And he lived like it. So should we.

Father, I want my inner transformation to show up in my outer man. I want my life to be living proof of Your presence in my life. You have not changed the world or my circumstances, but You are changing me and my capacity to live differently in the midst of it all. Continue to change me from the inside out. Let my new heart result in a new man. May others see Christ in me regardless of what is happening to me or around me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

New and Improved!

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT

As I write this post this morning, my 91-year old father lies in a hospital room in Fort Worth, Texas, having suffered two grand mal seizures just a few days ago. When I walked into his room the morning after he had had them, what I saw was a shock to my system. Lying in the bed was a small, pale body that looked nothing like the man I have known for 58 years. My father had been through an ordeal and his body showed it. He appeared near death. His ninety one years of life had seemed to catch up with him in a hurry, with the latest ordeal having taken a final toll. Thankfully, God has His hands on my father’s life and seems to be restoring him, slowly but surely. But upon first seeing our father lying in that hospital bed, my brother and I both remarked that it appeared as if dad was ready to go home. He was hearing heaven call. Today’s passage couldn’t have been more timely. When I read the verses above this morning, I couldn’t help but see that image of my father’s frail body lying under those thin hospital sheets and illuminated by the stark light of that cold, inhospitable ICU room. His body appeared broken and weak. His body looked frail and fragile. Inside was the man I have always known. His mind still sharp. His love for God unwavering. His passion for Jesus unchanged. It reminded me of another passage from the pen of Paul found in his second letter to the Corinthians. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies, we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has give us his Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT).

We will have new bodies. It’s guaranteed! My dad will one day be released from the confines of his earthly, human “tent” and take up residence in a new body prepared for Him by God. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that same reality. Our earthly bodies were made for life on this earth. But they are not equipped to handle heaven. They are temporal, and heaven is eternal. And should my father live (and I pray that he will), and the Lord returns, he will receive a new spiritual body. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT). His earthly body, weak and worn out as it is, will be transformed into a new, spiritual body that will never die. He will become immortal. His body will become eternal. What will he look like? I have no idea. Will he appear as he did in that hospital bed? I think not. What age will he appear? I don’t know. But I do know that the day is coming when he will receive a new body that will never grow old, never succumb to disease, never experience pain, and never require hospitalization or medical treatment of any kind. The physical death of our bodies is the result of the fall – the sin of Adam and Eve in their rejection of God. Death entered the equation because they chose to live for themselves, rather than obey and honor God. “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NLT). As believers, we don’t have to fear death, because God has promised us eternal life and new spiritual bodies with which to experience it. We will get to exchange these old, worn-out tents for new ones. My dad will some day receive a new body that is strong, virile, and disease and pain free. The resurrection of our bodies is not just wishful thinking. It is a promise of God. And as I go up to visit my dad in just a few minutes, I will take that promise with me, clinging to the words of Paul, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT). My God is faithful. He is not done yet.

Father, thank You that this is not all there is. As much as I love my life, I am so grateful that there is more to come. There is something far greater in store that You have planned for us. These bodies and our existence on this planet are temporary, not permanent. Our pain and suffering are only for the moment. There is a day coming when all things will be renewed and restored to their original state, including our bodies. May I not forget that in the days ahead. Should my dad survive, I will praise You. Should You decide to take him home, I will rejoice in the fact that He is with You. He will have a new body. He will have renewed strength. He will be at home with the Lord – where he was meant to be. Thank You!. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 12e

A Polly-Anna Proverb?

“No harm comes to the godly, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.” ­– Proverbs 12:21 NLT

As I read through the Book of Proverbs, I inevitably run across verses that sound really good, but that don’t appear to be realistic about life. They seem to make sweeping promises that aren’t necessarily true. But then I have to remind myself that these proverbs are not actually promises. They aren’t even necessarily principles for life. They are truths. They reflect how the world should operate. The picture how things were designed by God to be, but because of the fall and the presence of sin, things are not always pristine and clear. When we read “No harm comes to the godly,” it isn’t hard to think of instances in our own lives, as believers, when we may have experienced harm or hurt. We can come up with countless examples of godly people who have suffered and even been martyred for their faith. So what is this passage really telling us? Is it a lie or simply wishful thinking?

As is typical in the rest of the book, what we have here is a contrast between godly living and wickedness. The individual who loves God and seeks to live his life according to God’s will and way, is juxtaposed with that individual who has determined to live in rebellion to God. And this verse tells us there are benefits to godliness and consequences for wickedness. This isn’t a promise for a trouble-free life. It isn’t a guarantee of protection from harm. I think it is telling us that a life of godliness will never be the cause or root of our pain or problems. In other words, if I follow God’s way and walk according to His will for my life, it will not result in trouble. Think about this carefully. As a Christian, I may suffer because of my faith. In fact, Jesus told me I would. But when others attack me or cause me pain because of my relationship with Christ, it is because of their own hatred, bigotry and sin, NOT because of anything I have done to them. Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of men because He claimed to be the Son of God. He was accused of blasphemy. The Jewish religious leadership demanded His death. But even Pilot could find no fault in Jesus. He was innocent of all wrong-doing. His crime was that He was telling the truth and they simply did not want to hear it or accept it. Yes, Jesus faced trouble. But He was not the cause of it. Godliness does not result in harm. Wickedness does. The two men hanging on the crosses next to Jesus deserved to be there. Their lives had determined their fate. They were guilty as charged and worthy of their punishment, as cruel as it may have been. One of them even admitted, “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong” *(Luke 23:41 NLT).

When we suffer pain or undergo persecution in our lives, it is NEVER because of our faith in Christ. It is not a result of godly living. It is because we live in a godless world. People may attack us because of our Christianity, but what they do to us will never be justifiable because of our Christianity. Godliness does not produce pain and suffering. Yes, we will suffer pain and suffering, but those things are the byproduct of wickedness. Jesus’ death on the cross was not caused by His righteous, sinless life, but because of the wickedness of men.

So what do we do with all this? It should be a reminder to us in times of difficulty, that any pain and suffering we encounter are not the result of our faith in Christ. At no time do we have the right or are we justified to shake our fist in the face of God and complain that our faithfulness to Him is causing us harm. We may be suffering because of the sinfulness of others or even because of our own sin, but not because we did things God’s way. And we must remember that God can and will always use our pain and suffering for our good and His glory. When Joseph looked back on his life, a life filled with all kinds of setbacks and disappointments, including his own brothers selling him into slavery, he was able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). The life of godliness or faithfulness to God, never results in harm. It will never be the cause of our troubles. It is the presence of wickedness in our own lives and the lives of others that will always be the culprit. “The way of the godly leads to life; that path does not lead to death” (Proverbs 12:28 NLT).

Father, living my life according to Your terms and in faithful submission to Your will is right where I need to be. It results in life. It will produce pain or result in harm. But I know there will be pain and suffering. Help me to realize the source and recognize that it is not because of my faith in You.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Psalm 69 – Day 1

Living Lessons.

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” – Psalm 69:32 NLT

Do you ever wonder why difficulty comes into your life? As a Christian, do you ever question why God would allow you to suffer at all? Pain, persecution and trials of all kinds are difficult for us to handle, even as Christ-followers. As human beings we seem innately wired to run from trouble, or to confront it head on. In either case, our intent it to escape it or remove it from our lives. Yet this reality of pain and suffering is one of the things we human beings all have in common. Yes, it comes in varying degrees of difficulty and some seem to suffer more than others. But no one gets to go through life completely untouched by sorrow, hurt, difficulty, trials, and the feelings of despair they bring.

Even as God’s anointed king of Israel, David was not immune to difficulty. In fact, long before his kingdom began, he found himself in dire straights, running for his life and spending his days living in the wilderness instead of a palace. Psalm 69 reflects the words of a man who is in deep trouble. He is up to his neck in difficulty. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding his situation, but it is clear that David is having a hard time. He says, “I am in deep water,” “I sink into the mire,” I am exhausted,” “I weep and fast,” and “I am in despair.” Things are not going well for David, and so he is calling out to His God for help. He asks God to save him, rescue him, to show him favor, to answer his prayer and show him favor. He appeals to God’s unfailing love and mercy. David knows that God is his only hope. He fully understands that God alone has the power to rescue him from all that is happening to him. While David doesn’t enjoy what is going on, he sees it as an opportunity to watch God work. He knows that this is a chance to witness the power of God displayed in and around his life. His pain and suffering provide a platform on which God can display His power. And when God does rescue, David will have plenty of reasons to praise and thank God. Not only that, all those who love and honor God will also have ample reason to be encouraged and emboldened to trust God too. David knew that his difficulties were simply temporal occasions for God to display His eternal power. Our trials are no trouble for God. He is not worried, dismayed, in panic, or fearful about the outcome. He simply wants to reveal His strength through our weakness. He wants to display His power through our impotence. God loves to save. He longs to rescue. And when His children praise and thank Him when He does, He is glorified and honored. When God rescues us, others are encouraged. When God intervenes on our behalf and we sing His praises to those around us, they are prompted to trust in God the next time they go through trials and difficulties. Our troubles become opportunities to witness of God’s saving power. They provide us with real-life examples of God’s presence and power. They remind us of God’s love and mercy. And when we thank Him for His salvation from trouble, and tell others what He has done for us, He is glorified. And all who seek God’s help get encouraged.

Father, You long to intervene in our lives and You long to show Your power. You have chosen to do so through our weaknesses. You have determined to display Your glory through those events in our lives that reveal our own weaknesses. May we see those times as opportunities to see You work. And when You do, may we give You the glory and praise You deserve. So that others will be encouraged to trust You more. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org